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Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The Downside of Gender Equality
The Sixth Circuit heard arguments last week in a case from Michigan, where the plaintiffs are arguing that the Michigan High School Athletic Association violates federal antidiscrimination statutes, namely Title IX, by scheduling female sports in different seasons from male sports. (Story) The harm claimed is that playing in off seasons affects girls chances to get athletic scholarships. Back in 2001, the federal district court held for the plaintiffs and the case has been in appeal ever since. The latest argument, on remand from the Supreme Court, is on a procedural point that is not likely to end the case.
The question I have, however, is not related to whether the practice is discriminatory. Even if it is (under a strict reading of Title IX), do female athletes suffer more by having to play at the same time of their male counterparts? Last month, the Washington Post featured an interesting article on just this topic. (Watts, "Title IX Ruling Makes Girls' Sports a Tough Draw," Wash. Post, 02/21/06).
In 2000, a federal district court in Virginia faced the identical question and came to the same conclusion, ordering that female teams play in the same season as male teams. The result, however, has not been all positive. Now that they are competing with boys teams, many girls teams have experienced a sharp drop-off in attendance since the schedule change.
But just 2.3 miles down the road at Heritage, where the Pride boys were hosting Loudoun County on their Senior Night, nearly 800 fans filled those bleachers, an estimated 70 percent of them students from the two schools.
"I remember my freshman year there were tons of kids at the games and afterward they'd all be on the court celebrating with us or whatever," said Broad Run senior Whitney Vlasic, a four-year varsity basketball player. "Now it's all parents in the stands."
So, does this help girls athletics more than it hurts it? I haven't seen the data on athletic scholarships (or other potential harms), but I find it hard to believe it is that great. After all, college teams want the best athletes, no matter when they play. And, considering the fact that the overwhelming majority (at least 99 percent) of high school athletes don't receive athletic scholarships, is the burden so widespread to make it a problem? On the other hand, if girls basketball was played in a different season than boys, both squads could share top-notch gyms, practice facilities and gyms. Students could come support both teams, rather than being forced to pick one over another. In other words, there would be little discrepancy between male and female teams. Isn't that what Title IX is all about?